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House Honored with Professor Emeritus, Reflects on His Work and Classroom

Journalism Associate Professor Roger House will receive the title of Professor Emeritus when he retires later this year.

As a professor of American Studies, House created numerous Emerson courses, wrote for national websites including The Hill and The Daily Beast, and has penned several books including South End Shout: Boston’s Forgotten Music Scene in the Jazz Age, published in 2023. Blue Smoke: The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy, was selected as a 2011 finalist for Excellence in Historical Writing by the Association of Recorded Sound Collections, and inspired the 2013 BBC TV documentary, Big Bill Broonzy: The Man Who Brought the Blues to Britain, in which House was a featured expert.

House also produced historical documentary programs for National Public Radio and was a staff writer for the Providence Journal in Rhode Island.

House reflected upon his teaching career, his own writing, and what motivates him.

Roger House
Roger House

How many years have you taught at Emerson College?

This is my 24th year of teaching at the College, and always as a full-time professor. I began in September 2000 and will end in May 2024, although I’m scheduled to teach two online courses in the summer. I am 67 years old.

What are some of the high points of 24 years of teaching, research, and service at Emerson?

I spent a year as a Fulbright teaching scholar in Okinawa, Japan, from 2003 to 2004. I taught multimedia courses on American culture to university students fluent in English and eager to learn from a native speaker. I learned a lot from an Asian Pacific Island culture with a history of annexation by Japan and U.S. military bases since World War II.

I produced a variety show on civil rights in 2014. I got the idea when reading the memoir of a Boston vaudeville entertainer. The stage production featured small acts by entertainers, musicians, civil rights lawyers, and activists for a program called Victory Stride. It commemorated the anniversaries of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision. The turnout filled Semel Theater and was videotaped as a time capsule. It is available on the weblog

My recent monograph on Boston’s jazz history, South End Shout: Boston’s Forgotten Music Scene in the Jazz Age, is a way for Emerson College to shape the city’s culture. For many years, I heard about the South End jazz history that always seemed to begin in the 1950s. That reference point was self-serving, because it centered around a time of white control of the industry. What was missing was the history of how it all got started. My book rediscovered the lost Black voices in the jazz story. It established a new reference point, shifted the understanding of jazz culture in Boston, and placed the culture in the history of jazz in America.

What classes have you taught at Emerson College?

My courses involved U.S. history and culture, primarily in the 20th century. As a newspaperman, I designed some content to account for the role of journalism in American history.

I developed “Blacks, Whites and Blues” from my research on roots music. It surveyed the history of blues music and the intersection of race and class in the country. “The City” explored urban history with a spotlight on Boston as the walkable city.

I developed “History of the Alternative Press” from my research on journalism. It explored the role of the non-mainstream press in American history and current affairs.

I developed “Social Movements in American History” to examine the role of civic groups and mass activism in 20th-century reforms. “African American History” is a survey of the saga of Black people in the country. “History of the United States” is a survey of social and political history since the late 19th century.

What were/are your favorite classes to teach?

I enjoyed teaching all of the subjects, at different times and for different reasons. My favorite classes were those with lively and engaged students who helped to carry the class. Those sessions were more like learning communities rather than the all-knowing professor imparting information.

You’re a prolific writer of opinion pieces about Black politics and cultural history that appear in media outlets throughout the country. What drives you to write?

With a background as a historian and newspaperman, I can shed light on issues of Black political culture. I’m able to interpret events from a historical perspective, unlike a journalist, and write in an accessible way, unlike some historians. My intent is to contribute to public understanding in these times of so-called leaders distorting history for political gain.

You recently wrote about why Black Americans should commemorate Liberia’s history. Have you visited Liberia?

I have not visited Liberia to date. What I have visited is the history of the formation of the country. Traveling into the past is like traveling to a foreign country. It requires the suspension of how one expects things to be and adjustment to how people in the past experienced their times. That is what I tried to convey in why Black Americans should honor the history of Liberia.

It is believed that you are Emerson’s first Black professor emeritus (Performing Arts Professor Robbie McCauley is believed to be the first Black professor emerita). How does it feel?

I’m proud to be the first Black professor emeritus. Let’s just say that I am a survivor who had the time to contribute to a more equitable college culture. There is still work to be done, however, and I hope that I am not the last Black professor emeritus.

You’re working on your next book, Five Hundred Years of Black Self Governance. What has surprised you about researching and writing the book?

The book is an account of independent Black settlements that arose in resistance to slavery and Jim Crow. What has surprised me is how little of this history is either taught or given a platform. I try to connect the dots to establish a tradition of self-governing values and practices. It is a saga of inspiration that helps to re-envision the American experience since Columbus.

This is your last semester teaching at Emerson. What will you do in retirement?

I hope to stay in Boston for a while and work at a semi-retired pace. I would like to finish my book, continue writing editorial opinions, and teach an occasional online course. I also want to do things that were challenging on a full-time schedule — like attending events in Boston’s cultural community, spending time with my significant lady, and sticking to an exercise routine. I look forward to walking on the sunny side of the street.  

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